Reflections from An Evening with Two Row on the Grand

Last Thursday, as part of the Common Waters project, Jay Bailey and his “paddle-sister,” Ellie Joseph, shared some of their experiences as co-organizers of the annual Two Row on the Grand canoe trip.

Now in its fourth year, Two Row on the Grand is a 9-day paddling/camping experience along the Grand River, starting in Cambridge and ending in Port Maitland on Lake Erie. It honours the messages and teachings of the original Two Row Wampum Treaty between the Mohawk and the Dutch over 400 years ago.

Jay and Ellie explained the basics of this arrangement: both nations agreed to travel down the river of life side-by-side (in two parallel rows), sharing the bounty of the earth. Their close but separate paths symbolize their understanding that they were to move forward in peace together while respecting their individual cultures, avoiding disruption of one another’s ways of life.

However, that’s not the way the story unfolded.

An event like this, then, is a gleam of hope during these strained and complicated times: one in which all are welcome, in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members of all ages can connect and learn from one another, in which activities like canoeing and camping in groups, breaking bread together, and sharing cultural teachings and experiences, serve to form strong and transformative bonds.

That’s where the healing begins.

Jay and Ellie passed around replicas of the original two wampum belts associated with the Treaty. These items – which served in ornamental, ceremonial, diplomatic and commercial capacities - are rich in skilled craftsmanship and deep symbolic meaning. The original belts were crafted of shell threaded onto string and woven into patterns and pictures. In the Two Row wampum belts, as I understand it, three bands of white beads symbolized the river (or shared resources) while one band of purple represented the canoes of the Indigenous and the other parallel band of purple represented the ships of the settlers. I was intrigued when Jay pointed out that we can extend this symbolism to reflect any binary relationship in our lives – and since I’ve recently been pondering the nature and importance of life’s examples of duality (love/hate, light/dark, “both/and” thinking) – this resonated with me.

Another inspiring aspect of the evening was learning about the ways in which the paddle has impacted past participants – providing meaning, hope, and connection with both the natural world and other people. Many return year after year, finding purpose and pleasure in this slow journey down a heritage river with their growing “paddle family.”

It was a pleasure attending this session. Thanks to Jay and Ellie for their dedication and hard work in planning Two Row on the Grand (no small feat) and participating in the Common Waters project. Visit for details about the paddle and mark the dates for next year’s event: July 22-30, 2020!

  • Vanessa Pejovic, August 10, 2019

Vanessa PejovicComment